QM/MM free energy simulations of salicylic acid methyltransferase: effects of stabilization of TS-like structures on substrate specificity.
ABSTRACT Salicylic acid methyltransferases (SAMTs) synthesize methyl salicylate (MeSA) using salicylate as the substrate. MeSA synthesized in plants may function as an airborne signal to activate the expression of defense-related genes and could also be a critical mobile signaling molecule that travels from the site of plant infection to establish systemic immunity in the induction of disease resistance. Here the results of QM/MM free energy simulations for the methyl transfer process in Clarkia breweri SAMT (CbSAMT) are reported to determine the origin of the substrate specificity of SAMTs. The free energy barrier for the methyl transfer from S-adenosyl-L-methionine (AdoMet) to 4-hydroxybenzoate in CbSAMT is found to be about 5 kcal/mol higher than that from AdoMet to salicylate, consistent with the experimental observations. It is suggested that the relatively high efficiency for the methylation of salicylate compared to 4-hydroxybenzoate is due, at least in part, to the reason that a part of the stabilization of the transition state (TS) configuration is already reflected in the reactant complex, presumably, through the binding. The results seem to indicate that the creation of the substrate complex (e.g., through mutagenesis and substrate modifications) with its structure closely resembling TS might be fruitful for improving the catalytic efficiency for some enzymes. The results show that the computer simulations may provide important insights into the origin of the substrate specificity for the SABATH family and could be used to help experimental efforts in generating engineered enzymes with altered substrate specificity.